Six Tips for Safe Holiday Cooking

Each year more than 75 million people suffer from a food-borne illness. Here’s how to ensure your holiday guests don’t become one of them.

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Most of us spend weeks shopping for the perfect gifts for our family and friends. The same care should be extended to the food we put on the table, otherwise we could end up giving them something they never wanted - food poisoning. Of the 75 million people who are sickened by food each year, 5,000 die from it.

During the holidays, when we gather round the buffets and potlucks, where bacteria can have their own party, we can increase our chances of joining those statistics without even knowing it.

Follow these 6 simple rules to keep you and your family safe.

  1. Wash Your Hands
    You lower your risk of food poisoning by 50% when you wash your hands before, during, and after food prep. Need we say more?
  2. Watch Out For Raw Eggs
    From cookie dough to eggnog, raw eggs find their way into multiple holiday meals, and, with them, dangerous salmonella bacteria. Salmonella poisoning can hit you with nausea and vomiting in as little as 6 hours.

    To stay safe, use pasteurized eggs, such as Egg Beaters, make sure cookies and cakes are fully baked before eating, and don't lick the bowl! For eggnog, mix the eggs and sugar together and then blend them slowly into the milk, continuously stirring over heat to cook the eggs and emulsify the mixture.

  3. Take Care With The Turkey
    Turkeys, a staple at many holiday tables, can harbor the dreadful-sounding Campylobacter jejuni, a species of bacteria that loves nothing more than to fowl up your holiday centerpiece. It can cause serious belly pain, even a week after you've pushed your chair away from the table. Keep them from showing up at the party by thawing the turkey in the refrigerator and then cooking it to 165 degrees. The only safe way to check for doneness is to use a meat thermometer. Make sure to clean the thermometer thoroughly in between each testing (otherwise you risk recontamination).
  4. Join the Clean Plate Club
    You don't have to eat everything in front of you, but, if you're hosting, you should serve each person their own plate already filled with the works. Passing plates around the table just gives everyone the opportunity to share viruses and bacteria, such as staphylococcus aureus, which can fell you with diarrhea for several days. Keep platters in the oven until you're ready to serve them.
  5. Over Two Is Bad For You
    Don't leave any food out at room temperature for more than 2 hours (less than one hour is best). Between 40 and 140 degrees bacteria have their own party - doubling their numbers every 20 minutes. One of them - listeria - can quietly set up shop inside you without rearing its ugly head for a month or more. When it does, it often gets into the brain and where it causes meningitis.
  6. Learn The Rules of Leftovers
    Storing food carefully will not just ensure freshness and taste it will keep bacteria at bay. Use sealable containers that are shallow (2 inches or less, if possible) to help cool food quickly. And don't over pack the fridge; the air needs to circulate to maintain the proper temperature, which should be 40 degrees (give it a check before you close up for the night). Turkey will stay good for 3 to 4 days, but gravy shouldn't be eaten after 1 or 2. The same goes for baked goods, which should be eaten or thrown out within a few days of the big day.